4th Sunday of Advent–What Would Joseph Do?

 

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, so real, that you could swear that it really happened?  Have you ever had an angel speak to you in a dream? I haven’t but I have friends who swear they have and I have no reason to doubt their word.

 

Don’t you sometimes wish an angel WOULD speak to you.  It would definitely make it easier to make some decisions.  Should I change jobs? Should I invest all my money in gold?  Should I take that trip I’ve been thinking about? Wouldn’t it be nice if an angel would show up, kind of like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life?

 

The thing is, if it did happen, would we believe it?  Remember, George Baily didn’t believe Clarence. He thought either Clarence was crazy, or he was crazy.  Whether our angel shows up in a dream or as we’re about to jump off a bridge, we’re probably going to be skeptical.

 

So, here’s Joseph.  First his fiancé comes up pregnant with a crazy story about the Holy Spirit.  I’m sure Joseph said something to Mary like “I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.”  The relationship must have been on shaky ground. Joseph was a businessman. He had a reputation to protect.  What will people think when his young future wife’s tunic starts to bulge? Either they’ll think it’s his, which was a terrible scandal in those days, or they’ll think it’s not his, which would be even worse.  Oy, veh! What to do, what to do?

 

Then one night he has this dream.  An angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home.  Her story about the Holy Spirit is true. This child will save his people from their sins.

 

Fortunately for you and me, Joseph took the angel at his word.  He didn’t write off the dream as the result of eating pizza before he went to bed, like I might do.  No, his faith made him believe.

 

But, why do we hear this story the week before Christmas?  Why has the Church decided that Joseph’s actions are important.  The Sunday before Christmas is kind of “prime time” in the Liturgical Year.  Unless you come to mass every day, this is the last message you’re going to hear before we celebrate Jesus’ birth.

 

Face it, even if Joseph had said “forget it, I’m outa here”, Jesus still would have been born.  He still would have saved us from our sins. Heck, we don’t even know what happened to Joseph after the incident where Jesus stays behind at the temple.  We don’t know how he died and there’s not a single word spoken by him in the entire New Testament.

 

 

We don’t pray the “Hail Joseph” and there are very few songs written about him.  But he must be an important part of the story or we wouldn’t be reading this particular Gospel on this particular day.  Here’s what I think.

 

Joseph is just like you and me.  Guys, he’s the perfect role model for fathers.  He gave up everything for his wife and son. The angel said “take Mary into your home.”  He took her into his home. The angel said “give up your business and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.”  He took them to Egypt.

 

The angel came to him again and said “Take them back” and he took them back.  All the while the poor guy was living in a home with two sinless people. Anything that ever went wrong was HIS fault.  Just imagine being the step-father of the Son of God. Imagine what God would do if Joseph let something happen to Jesus.  It’s bad enough if you let your own kid get lost, just think if Joseph let God’s son fall out of a tree and break his neck.  It wouldn’t be pretty.

 

That’s what makes Joseph a good father, but what about those of us who aren’t fathers, particularly you ladies.  How is Joseph a role model for you?

 

Joseph did everything that was asked of him and he did it not expecting any earthly reward.  There was no recognition in his lifetime. There were no “parent of the year” awards. Most of the things he did, he did in secrecy.  Even John the Baptist’s father’s words are part of our faith tradition. The Canticle of Zechariah is part of the Church’s daily prayers.  But there’s no “Canticle of Joseph”. All we know is that he said yes to the angel. Not once, but over and over and over again. And we know that from his actions because his words were never recorded.  

 

In our first reading today the prophet Isiaah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign from God and Ahaz refuses.  He’s the total opposite of Joseph. Isiaah tells Ahaz that God will provide a sign anyway. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name Him Emmanuel.”  Of course Ahaz didn’t see the sign. It didn’t come for 700 years.

 

So, as you and I go about our daily lives, we do what Joseph did.  We act in faith. We don’t expect an earthly reward. Most of us will pass through this life and move on to the next, never knowing the good that we’ve done unless we run into our own personal Clarence.  And that’s probably not going to happen.

 

The Church reminds us of our role by presenting the story of Joseph just ahead of the celebration of his step-son’s birth.  Did Joseph have to say “yes”. No he didn’t. Would Jesus have been born, lived and died, and been raised on the third day without Joseph?  Yes he would have.

 

But Joseph did say “Yes” and he stands after all these centuries as our role model.  Face it, you and I aren’t Jesus. And we aren’t Mary. We sin. We make mistakes. We fail to live up to our potential as Christians and as human beings…..just like Joseph.

 

Remember a few years ago the kids were wearing bracelets that said WWJD?  What would Jesus do. In real life, what Jesus would do might be too much for us.  We can’t walk on water. We can’t turn water into wine. We aren’t free from sin. Maybe a better question would be “What would Joseph do?”

 

It might be hard to follow in Joseph’s footsteps, but it IS doable for you and me.  So, in the few days that remain before the big celebration, maybe you can keep Joseph in mind.  When there’s a decision to be made, ask him what you should do. I have a feeling you’ll get a pretty good answer.

 

Goodbye 2017

sit-computer-healthy

I know you’re sitting in front of your computer (tablet, smart phone) breathlessly waiting for your favorite blogger to give you some words of wisdom to take you into the new year.  That’s a lot of responsibility you’re putting on me and, frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to it.

There are a lot of places you can go to get inspired but you’ve chosen to come here so I guess I owe it to you to give it my best shot.  After all, I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel almost nonstop since Thanksgiving.  I should be very inspired.  Let me say something in passing about the folks at Hallmark TV.  Like the Catholic Church, they don’t consider December 25 to be the end of the Christmas season.  They continue to run Christmas movies.  And even though they’re all the same movie, with the same plot, they’re Christmas movies all the same.

So, let me start my end-of-the-year diatribe with a few words about the Christmas season.  Holy Mother Church divides the year into seasons.  The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent.  This year that was December 3.  So right away we’re out of sync with the rest of the world.

Advent is always four weeks long so this year the last Sunday of Advent was December 24, which was also Christmas Eve, the BEGINNING of the Christmas season.  Today, Sunday, December 31 is the Feast of the Holy Family.  It’s also secular New Years Eve.

The following Sunday, January 7 is the Feast of the Epiphany and the next day, Monday the 8th wdead christmas treee celebrate the  Baptism of the Lord.  That’s the end of the Christmas season.  You can finally take down that tree that’s been up since the first of November.

But don’t get too comfortable with Ordinary√ Time this year.  We’ll just barely get the green vestments out and it will be time for the purple of Lent.  Ash Wednesday, 2018, is on February 14, Valentines Day.  Six weeks of Lent (and fish fries) and it will be Easter again.

So that’s your lesson on the Church calendar but it’s hardly the words of wisdom you’ve been waiting for so I’m going to borrow something from Father Z’s blog.  (If you don’t follow Father  Z, you should).  Today Father Z reminds us that a plenary indulgence is available to us both today and tomorrow.

You may ask “what is an indulgence?”  And indulgence is the release from temporal punishment for your sins.  Just because you’ve been forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation you still have to be cleansed from your sins before you can get into heaven.  That’s what we call purgatory and an indulgence (partial) can reduce your time in purgatory while a plenary indulgence wipes your slate clean.  Here’s how you can obtain a plenary indulgence today.

  1.  Go to confession and received communion within a reasonable time (20 days)
  2. Recite or sing the Te Deum..
  3. Pray for the Pope’s intentions.  (One Our Father and one Hail Mary)
  4. Detest and detach yourself from even venial sins.

We can also receive a plenary indulgence tomorrow (January 1) by the singing or recitation of the Veni Creator Spiritus plus the other three things above.

So I guess giving you a way to cut some time off your stay in purgatory, even if it’s not wise, it’s certainly helpful.

Have a safe and blessed January 1.  Be careful out there and stay warm.

Advent Turns into Christmas

i_plan_god_laughs_cut_outs-rbb85afee67294a78853b22616b0757f0_x7saw_8byvr_512

They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your long-range plans.  This week has certainly proven that to be true.  Last week at this time I had all kinds of things that  I was going to post for the fourth week of  Advent.  It would have been awesome!  Then, last Saturday I went out with some of my adult kids and some of my grandchildren.  We were watching a Christmas parade and waiting to cross the street to go to lunch.  The next thing I knew, I was laying flat on my back on the sidewalk.  My legs just gave out on me.

As I lay there on the sidewalk I realized that all these people I didn’t know were helping me to get back on my feet (with a lot of help from a light pole that kept me from falling right back where I had been).  Lesson number 1 was that there are a lot of good people in the world.  Total strangers had stopped their celebration to help me.  People are basically good.  And God is great!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my adult kids and daughter-in-law insisted (demanded) that I go to the hospital.  All I wanted to do was go to lunch, but it wasn’t to be.  My lovely and talented wife poured me into the car and delivered me to the emergency room.  It would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

20171221_141036.jpg

Let me say here that I have a lot of respect for doctors and the work they do.  Over the last few years, I’ve had to opportunity to meet a lot of them.  See the thing is, specialists specialize.  They each try to frame your illness in terms of their specialty.  That’s what they know and that’s the way it is.  On the other hand, ER docs are more inclined to look at the big picture.  The first thing they did to me in the Emergency Room was order a CAT scan, something none of my “team” of specialists had never done.  It turns out the trouble has been mostly in my head, literally.

Lesson number 2, what looks like a problem may turn out to be a blessing.  I’ll be going in for surgery in January which may solve a lot of my health issues.  I have something called hydrocephalus I never did get lunch.

To make a short story long, I spent three days in the hospital and my week of clever Advent posts went right out the window. Thank God for my daughter who finished my Christmas shopping for me and even wrapped everything.  And thank God for family members who are smarter than I am.  If I’d had my way I would have gone to lunch and gone home not knowing what was going on in my head.  Lesson number 3, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

So, I’ll sum up with this one Advent/Christmas offering.  The weeks of waiting are over.  Tonight our Savior comes.  What an awesome occasion.  I’ve returned to my home parish and I can’t wait for Christmas mass.  This year will be extra special, not that every Christmas isn’t extra special.  We have a God who’s so wonderful, so loving, that He sent His only Son to become one of us!  Thanks to this great gift we can look forward to an eternity in paradise!

We buried a friend of mine yesterday.  Who could ask for a better Christmas gift than to be free from pain and earthly worries and be on our way to heaven?   Prayers go out to his family, but I believe that they understand that death is just a beginning.  Yesterday’s funeral was truly a celebration of life!  We have no idea what God has in store for us.

I’m going to close this with the wish that you and your families have a peaceful and blessed Christmas.  Thank you for reading Deaconcast and I hope you’ll continue to check in.  I have some exciting plans for 2018, but you can see what sometimes happens to plans.  God’s plan is the only one that counts and we have no idea what that may be.  Our job is to continually pray for knowledge of His plan for us and for the power to make it happen.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!

December 6–The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today we remember Saint Nicholas.  He lived in present-day Turkey from 270 to 343.  Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicea where he signed the Nicene Creed in 323.

Saint Nicolas was known for his secret gift-giving, including leaving coins in children’s shoes which led to our modern celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6.  The legend of Nicholas spread northward to Holland and came to New York with the Dutch settlers.  Eventually, the legend morphed into Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

But gifts and money are still given in some areas on December 6.  So, leave your shoes out tonight.  Who knows?  You might get some gifts.

Monday of the 1st Week of Advent

Yesterday the Pope had this to say:

“Today we begin the journey of Advent, which will culminate in Christmas. Advent is the time that is given to us to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us, to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare ourselves for Christ’s return. He will return to us on the feast of Christmas, when we will remember His historical coming in the humility of the human condition; however, He comes within us every time we are disposed to receive Him, and He will come again at the end of time to “judge the living and the dead.” Therefore, we must always be vigilant and wait for the Lord with the hope of meeting Him.”

As we begin our Advent journey, Jesus reminds us in our Sunday Gospel to watch.  Isn’t that what Advent’s all about?  We watch for Jesus’ coming.  We don’t let external distractions keep us from our Advent mission of preparing for Him to come on Christmas.  In a word, to watch.

The Feast of All Saints

Are you a minimalist Christian?

You’ve heard the expression “It’s the least I can do.”  I wonder how many of us approach our faith with this expression as our “mission statement”.  What’s the least I can do to get into heaven?

The best example I can think of of this attitude is the question priests and deacons hear all the time regarding Saturday wedding masses.  “Does this count?”  Count??  Count for what?  Of course, we know what they’re asking.  “If I go to this wedding, do I have to go to mass on Sunday?  The bride and groom are going to have a great party and I’d really rather not get up on Sunday morning.”  They’re asking if the Saturday wedding fulfills their “Sunday obligation.

First, let me say I hate the term “Sunday obligation.”  Paying your taxes is an obligation.  Going to work every day is an obligation.  Contributing to the support of the Church is an obligation.  Worshipping the Lord IS NOT AN OBLIGATION.  It’s something we do out of love for our Creator.  Were you listening to the Gospel this Sunday.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”

Loving with all your heart is not a minimalist concept.  We have to give Him everything, including our time.  The short answer to the above question is almost always NO.  God works outside of time.  Your so-called Sunday obligation is judged by the week’s readings, not by the time you showed up.  If you didn’t hear the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, you didn’t attend last week’s mass.

Make no mistake, if you love the Lord God, “with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind,” then the concept of a “Sunday obligation” should have no meaning to you.  You should attend mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening) because you want to be there.  What part of the word “all” do you not understand?

Today is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation.  There’s that word again.  Do you go to mass today out of some sense of obligation, or do you go because you venerate the saints and want to pay tribute to them?  The Church has watered down the concept of Holy Days by moving some of them to Sunday but they are still holy days.  (small h and d)

Advent is coming and Christmas isn’t far behind.  This might be a good time to review your attitude toward the Lord.  The commercials for Christmas stuff have already started.  Let’s not let the commercialism of our Lord’s birthday get in the way of our love for Him.  I’ll say it one more time,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”  Now, if you haven’t gone to mass today, turn off your computer and get going.

Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. We’ve heard the story lots of times. John’s baptizing at the river and Jesus gets in line along with everyone else. But, why? He was the Son of God. He came down from heaven and would soon go back. Why did He need to baptized? And why do we commemorate it today?

 

First, the answer is that He didn’t need it. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but you and I needed Him to be baptized. Saint Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers, wrote “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy.”

 

If you remember your grade school science you know that water evaporates, forms clouds, and returns to earth. The cycle repeats itself over and over. The wind blows the clouds so that the water that evaporates in one place comes down somewhere else. Eventually every drop of water on earth is connected to every other drop. When Jesus made the water of the Jordan holy, he made all water holy.

 

Obviously Jesus thought baptism was very important. In John’s Gospel He said, “Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel he tells the Apostles, “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our response to Christ.

Jesus died and rose from the dead to defeat death, to save all of us from our sins. But what He does today makes it possible for us individually to be one of his people. Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith. Jesus’ seemingly unnecessary decision to be baptized by John, someone “not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”, is actually the beginning of OUR journey of faith.

 

So, why do we celebrate Jesus’ baptism today? Today is officially the end of the Christmas season. Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated Advent, the time to prepare for Christ’s coming. Then we celebrated His birth on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family on the following weekend.

 

On January 1 we celebrated Mary, the Mother of God followed by the feast of the Epiphany last weekend. We end this holy season by remembering the great gift Jesus gave us; the gift of baptism. In it’s own way, this feast is extremely important and it’s appropriate that we celebrate it at the end of the Christmas season.

 

This year there’s a very short time between Christmas and Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 10, just a month away. But it’s a long month. The days are short. The weather’s not so great. It’s easy to get discouraged and to forget the blessings of the season that ends today.   But the feast we celebrate today reminds us that this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our life in Christ.

 

Chances are most of us were baptized as infants. Our parents and godparents stood in for us in making our baptismal promises. But those promises, promises we made to God, are just as valid today as they were on our baptismal day.

 

As baptized Christians we reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. That’s what Satan does. He makes us empty promises. “Do this and this will happen.” But we should know by now that his promises aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. And we, or our parents speaking on our behalf, promise to reject those promises. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Today, in lieu of the Creed, I’ve asked Father to lead us in renewing these promises.

 

Let’s let today be a reminder that we’re all part of God’s family, His children and brothers and sisters of His Son. We share baptism with Jesus. Water didn’t make Him holy. He made the water holy and by doing that, He made us holy.

 

After Jesus had been baptized heaven opened up and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but when I meet God face to face, I hope to hear those same words.

 

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Some of the special days in our calendar are called “feasts” and some are “solemnities”. What’s the difference? A solemnity is ranked much higher than a mere feast. According to Catholic Answers, “a solemnity is the highest ranking feast. These commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the Apostles central to the Christian faith. The celebration of mass on a Solemnity includes proper readings, the singing of the Gloria and the recitation of the creed.”

 

There are a lot of rules regarding solemnities that you really don’t need to know, but the main thing you do need to know is that part about commemorating an event in the lives of Jesus, Mary, or the Apostles that’s central to our faith. So, why is this celebration, just one week after Christmas, central to the faith?

 

It’s the day that the shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. Notice that the shepherds “went in haste”. In 2016 we don’t have a lot of contact with shepherds. We don’t know much about them. But one thing we do know is that the don’t go anywhere “in haste”. They spend their days hanging out with sheep, not known to be speedy animals. Shepherd is a pretty low-key job. But here we have them hurrying to Bethlehem to see this little baby. Something important was going on here.

When they got there, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. Luke says, “All who heard their story were amazed!” What was so amazing? Well, the story itself was pretty outrageous. But the fact that the angels had delivered this message to these sheep herders, the absolute lowest rung on the social ladder was even more amazing. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Then Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was the central player in the greatest event in the history of the world. Everything that had happened to her in the last nine months had to be pretty overwhelming. She wasn’t an educated girl. She was a young girl from a small town whose life had been turned upside-down and I’m sure she spent many hours reflecting on what had happened.

 

She knew from the time that Gabriel had visited her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. The angel had also visited Joseph and told him what was to come. On Christmas night Mary gave birth to the Son of God. She knew it. Joseph knew it. So what makes the visit of the shepherds an event “central to our Christian faith”? What makes it a “solemnity”? Why do we have to go to mass on New Years Eve (day)?

 

I think it goes back to the shepherds. Over the centuries, God has chosen the most surprising people to deliver His message. Look around at the statues of the saints in our chapel. There are a couple of kings, and Saint Michael, the Archangel. But for the most part they were ordinary people. Yet God chose them to be His messengers. The first in this long line of ordinary messengers were those shepherds.

 

Why didn’t the angels appear to somebody important; somebody with some influence; somebody who didn’t smell like a sheep? The most obvious answer is because the shepherds lived a quiet life. They were available to hear the message. They listened. Then, when they had received the message they went “in haste” to Bethlehem. It may have been the first time in their lives that they hurried anywhere.

 

If the shepherds were the first New Testament messengers, and if all these saints were messengers, then who are His messengers today? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Better yet, take a look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find His twenty-first century messengers. It’s you and me. We’re called to spread the Good News of the Gospel in this place and time. And, like the shepherds, we’d better hurry! There’s no time to waste!

 

If we’re not just as amazed by this story as the people who heard it first-hand from the shepherds, then we haven’t been paying attention. In the first reading the Lord told Moses to bless Aaron and his sons saying, “The lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

 

“Let His face shine upon you.” Nobody had ever seen God’s face. How could the Lord let his face shine upon them? That’s what this solemnity is all about. Now God has a face! It’s the face of a little baby lying in a manger. And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see it. This is what the world’s been waiting for for centuries. It’s an event that’s central to our faith.

 

The all-powerful God has chosen to show Himself to us in the form of a little baby. Halleluia!

 

On this day when we celebrate this awesome event, and on a day when we celebrate the changing of the secular calendar to a new year, we should keep in mind our neighbors who are suffering greatly from the recent rains and the catastrophic flooding. Please keep them in your prayers and, do what you can to help them. We will be taking up a second collection today and at both masses this weekend to help our neighbors. Please be generous, as you always are.

 

Feast of the Holy Family

 

Isn’t it remarkable that in just a few hours we’ve jumped from the Birth of Christ to His being twelve years old?   But the Church thinks it’s important that, in light of Jesus’ birth, we reflect on the importance of our families.

 

You know, Jesus didn’t have to be born into a human family. He could have just appeared as an adult. He could have ridden into town on a magnificent white horse surrounded by an army of angels. He was God. He could do that. In fact, that’s what many people expected. But that wasn’t His plan.

 

Jesus had to be born into a family. He had to experience what our lives are like. He also had to be an example to all of us of how we should behave. In the first reading, from the book of Sirach, the author tells us “God sets a father in honor over his children’ a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” He goes on to tell us that “whoever honors his father atones for his sins.”

 

That seems reasonable, and as a parent, I think it’s good advice. Sirach also tells us that a son should take care of his father when he gets old, even if his mind fails. I especially like that part.

 

We really don’t know all that much about Jesus’ growing up, but as a Holy Family, we have to believe that Jesus knew and followed Sirach’s teaching. I imagine it was a little touchy for Joseph to exercise authority over his Son who also happened to be God, but the Scriptures don’t give us any of the details about that, and it may be just as well.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel. Jesus is twelve. Anyone here who’s ever been a parent of a twelve-year-old knows they can be a little difficult to handle. They’re almost teen-agers but they’re still kids. They definitely think they know more than their parents, and in Jesus’ case that was probably true, while Mom and Dad still think of them as children.

 

So they take Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. When it’s time to go home, Jesus decides to stay. It’s a whole day before Mary and Joseph realize that He’s missing. In a panic they rush back to Jerusalem trying to find Him. AND IT TAKES THREE DAYS! Can you imagine losing your child for a total of four days??? What a nightmare! Poor Mary and Joseph. Not only have they lost their only child, they’ve lost the SON OF GOD! For a devout Jewish couple, their fear must have been unbearable.

 

But, then they find Him and Mary says something that seems very mother-like. “Why have you done this to us?” Not, “Oh thank God, we found you”, but “Why have you done this to us?”

 

Jesus’ answer about being in His Father’s house must have been very painful to them, especially to Joseph. Jesus’ actions in the Gospel seem very contrary to what Sirach tells us in the first reading. Apparently, even for the Son-of-God, twelve was a difficult year. Every kid, whether it was 2,000 years ago, or today, has a tough transition to go through. Jesus, being who He was, still must have had a hard time growing up sometimes. This feast of the Holy Family shows us that every family has its issues.

 

Is there anyone here who hasn’t seen the movie “A Christmas Story”? It’s one of my all-time favorites and it runs on cable continuously Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every year I watch it at least once, usually more than once. I love it because it reminds me so much of my own childhood, even though I never had a Daisy BB Gun. (My mother told me, “You’ll shoot your eye out”.) I also didn’t have a little brother. But the family dynamic, the atmosphere in northern Indiana, and all the rituals that surround Christmas are so similar to north Saint Louis in the fifties that I can’t help but relate.

 

There’s absolutely nothing religious about this movie. In fact, the producers seem to have gone out of their way to exclude religion. There’s never a Nativity Scene. Jesus’ name never comes up. It’s a strictly secular story that just happens to take place at Christmas time. But the Parker family fits Sirach’s model perfectly. The father is the head of the house. The mother has authority over Ralphie and Randy which is confirmed by “The Old Man”. The boys respect both their parents, even whey they’re trying to get away with something.

 

In the movie Ralphie is nine years old, not quite as old as Jesus in today’s Gospel, but nine-year-olds have their issues too. His reaction to the leg lamp is priceless, exactly what you would expect from someone his age.

 

There seems to be a similar message in this movie and in today’s readings. Every family, even the Holy Family, has its problems. Like they say, “kids will be kids” even if the kid is the Son of God. Parents aren’t perfect, even the Blessed Mother and Joseph. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan them. The humanity displayed by the Holy Family gives all of us hope.

 

Coming so soon after Christmas, this feast shows us that ecstasy can turn into disaster in the blink of an eye. One day we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, the next day He’s gone missing. Isn’t that what our lives are like sometimes? The Holy Family handled this catastrophe and went on with their lives, just like we have to. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are role models just like all these saints that are depicted here in our chapel. We study their lives to learn how to live our own.

 

Now that all the chaos of the secular Christmas celebration is past, we have the Holy Christmas season to relax and reflect. The Christmas decorations will remain in church for a while to give us time to reflect of Jesus birth without the distractions that get in our way leading up to Christmas. Let’s let the Holy Family be our example and our guide. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways.”

4th Sunday of Advent

In our first reading today, the Lord gives Nathan a fairly long message to deliver to David.  He makes David a series of promises ending with “your throne shall stand firm forever.”  Remember, this is the same David who had one of his men killed so he could have the man’s wife for himself.  David’s closet was full of skeletons.  But here’s God telling him that he’s going to be a mighty king and that his kingdom will last forever.

 

Even in David’s time, everybody knew that no kingdom could last forever.  It’s still true today.  But the Lord wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom.

 

Fast forward to today’s Gospel, Luke’s famous telling of the Annunciation.  It’s a beautiful story and one we’ve all heard many times.  Right in the middle of the story the angel tells Mary “the Lord God will give him (meaning Mary’s unborn Son) the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

There it is again; “The promise of a never-ending kingdom”.  We know today that the angel is talking about a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.  Poor Mary doesn’t know what to think.  Her response is, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

 

I want to stop here for just a minute.  When I was first in formation for the diaconate, about fifteen years ago, I went to a two-day workshop on the Gospel of Luke.  The speaker was Father Eugene La Verdier, an expert of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which was also written by Luke.  He spent the entire first morning talking to us about this Gospel passage.

 

Obviously I can’t tell you everything he said, but the gist of it was this.  Everything about Mary was small.  She lived in a very small town, Nazareth which was part of a very small province called Galilee.  To the people of Jesus’ time, Nazareth was kind of a back-water place, definitely not the kind of place that would give birth to the Messiah.

 

Then there’s Mary herself.  She’s a young girl from a small town.  She’s still a virgin.  In Mary’s society women were definitely second class citizens.  But married women at least had the prestige of their husbands.  Unmarried women were the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Aside from the biology of the thing, the idea of a young, single woman, a nobody in the Jewish society of that time, giving birth to such a mighty king was unprecedented.  “How can this be since I’m no more important than a good donkey or camel?”

 

Remember that Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Surely she intended to have children.  The idea that one of them might become a king was far-fetched but not impossible.  Her response only makes sense if we look at it as a sign of humility. “How can someone as lowly as me give birth to a king?”

What I’m suggesting to you is this.  The Son of God was born of a woman; an unmarried woman from a small, insignificant place.  The idea that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God was outrageous.   But Mary was chosen by God.  Jesus was the only person in history to have chosen His own mother.  He didn’t choose someone wealthy.  He didn’t choose someone powerful.  He didn’t choose a queen.  Any of those choices would have made it much easier for Him to perform His ministry.

 

He chose Mary.  He chose Mary to show you and me that with God anything is possible.  He chose her to give us encouragement.  If this lowly girl could be His mother, then you and I shouldn’t be afraid to tackle anything.  He chose her to show us how we should respond to God’s call just as he chose David to be a mighty king in spite of his past sins.

 

You and I may think we can never change the world. We’re just not important enough. Or maybe we think we’re too sinful. But the stories of David and Mary prove that we’re wrong. In just a few days we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s not just a day revolving around gifts and food. It’s a day to remember that Jesus was born for us; to save us from our sins. It’s a day to ponder our part in salvation history. What can I do to repay such a remarkable gift? What does God have in mind for me. It’s a day for us, just like Mary, to say, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

 

Time and again you have shown your generosity to others. Your response to our Christmas gift drive was outstanding. As you celebrate your own Christmas, take a moment to remember that some poor child is having a merrier Christmas because of your donated gifts.

 

After mass today (tomorrow) we’ll decorate the church for Christmas. We’ll have more poinsettias than ever before thanks to the generosity of our members who donated to our flower fund. Our Christmas visitors will be very impressed.

 

During the year you’ve helped with other collections for those less fortunate than we are. We may be a small community, but together we get things done. That’s what discipleship is all about. In the coming year, I hope that we can all work together to spread the Gospel to more people. There are plans in the works to build our attendance and to increase our revenue. Saint John Nepomuk Chapel has a special place in the hearts of people all over Saint Louis and throughout the nation and the world. We recently received a check from a lady from Florida, a non-Catholic lady by the way, who heard about our broken window and wanted to help.

 

There’s a Czech organization in Cleveland that sends us a check every year for Christmas. We regularly have visitors from other cities who attend mass here. You may not be aware that we often give tours to out-of-town groups visiting Saint Louis.

You and I are part of God’s plan. He has something He wants each of us to do. It’s up to us to respond, like Mary. In a few minutes we’ll all say together, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”